ZTE ZMAX Phone – The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
The ZTE ZMAX Phone is ZTE’s latest attempt at creating a reasonably priced and carrier-specific (T-Mobile) Phablet (phone + tablet) for fans of large screen phones. If the specs are any indication, we must say that ZTE has succeeded at making quite a splash with this latest iteration of a SmartPhone.
But despite its impressive list of features in terms of design, display, camera, battery life, memory, networks, processor, connectivity, audio and video, and accessory compatibility, the ZTE ZMAX falls short on some key features (granted that the so-called key features, which we will enumerate later, are purely subjective), which the budget-conscious customers must be willing to overlook, in order to take advantage of the deal ZTE has to offer.
Before we extol the virtues of the ZTE ZMAX, if you contemplate buying it, we think, as an educated consumer, you owe it to yourself to do your due diligence first to get acquainted with its list of features and specifications, dos and donts, by reading the “ZTE ZMAX User Manual & Safety Information“, a 160-page document. This article scratches only the surface.
The rectangular shape (Candy Bar), the diagonal size (5.7”), and the width (3.3”) provide a generous gorilla glass screen for internet browsing, video & photo viewing, and data typing. Although the sharpness of the angular corners interferes with the ease with which the smart phone can be slid into one’s pockets, if you care to protect your phone (back and front), before putting it into your pocket, you must invest in a Skin Case Cover and a Clear Tempered Glass LCD Screen Protector Film Cover. Luckily, these indispensable accessories can be inexpensively purchased, if you know where and how to shop.
While the beautifully laid out specs tempts us to opine on them all, we’re going to resist the temptation and limit our comments to just a few specs near and dear to our hearts.
The 3400mAh battery lasts a very long time when watching streamed videos. With respect to Talk Time (up to 14 hours) and Standby Time (up to 15 hours), we cannot attest to the veracity of those claims, for two (2) reasons:
- It would be insane to expose one’s self to 14 hours of cell phone radiation by staying that long on the phone. A better alternative is to use a landline phone whenever possible to reduce one’s exposure to cell phone radiation. However, if you are dead set on testing the 14-hour Talk Time claim, you can make a 14-hour call and put the cell phone on “Speaker“.
- Since it’s a matter of principle (to us) to keep one’s cell phone charged at all times, we won’t conduct that standby time experiment anytime soon.
The Operating System (OS), Android 4.4 (KitKat), is a vast improvement over the previous version. Turning off the cell phone, for example, offers 3 setting modes: Silent, Silent with Vibration, and Sound; which options were not offered in the previous OS. Now you can turn on/off your phone silently, unbeknownst to curious and sensitive auditory senses.
While web-surfing, you can open a New Tab, New Incognito Tab, Bookmark, view Recent Tabs, History, you may also Share, Print, Find In Page, Add to Homescreen, Request Desktop Site, Setting, ask for Help & offer Feedback.
While reading PDF documents with the Adobe Reader application, you can take note, text, freehand, or sign the documents as well.
The 8MP, auto focus camera captures great 1080p videos, unlike the typical 5MP cameras usually associated with the low end cell phones. The 1.6MP front-facing camera is not perfect, but decent enough to engage in social narcissism (posting of selfies on social media platforms).
The video/camera can be operated in nine (9) modes:
- Normal, Auto, Manual
- HDR, Panorama, Smile
- Photo Clear, Group, and Best Shot
The internal memory (2GB RAM + 16GB ROM), for a phone within that price range, is pretty generous. But if you cram too many apps into it, video recording and photo storing spaces will be severely restricted; a plausible excuse to install a 32GB micro SD card, if you have not already done so.
With an unlocked GSM (Global System for Mobiles) phone, unlike a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) phone, you can access any GSM network by swapping SIM Cards. In other words, you can use an unlocked AT&T cell phone on the T-Mobile network, and vice versa. The GSM feature is even more valuable if you travel aboard and want to access and take advantage of local networks’ low rates.
Although the ZTE ZMAX comes loaded with a ton of apps, conspicuously missing are pre-installed PDF reader, built-in scanner, office suite, Firefox browser, etc. which can be downloaded at Google Play store. Most apps are free. Here are, in our view, the best customizing apps we’ve come across:
- EBook Reader and PDF Reader by Litter Penguin (free)
- CamScanner (free & paid)
- AndrOpen Office (free)
- Firefox Browser for Android (free), etc.
There is a myriad of apps (free & premium) to choose from at the apps store. Customizing your smart phone to your heart’s content is a non-issue. Bear in mind though that most free apps are ad-supported.
The ZTE ZMAX comes loaded with over 40 apps: Calculator, Calendar, Camera, Flashlight, Notepad, Play Music, Sound Recorder, etc.
- No NFC (Near Field Communication)
- Attempts to shoot a spontaneous video or to take a picture may result, sometimes, in the display of this message: Unfortunately, Camera has stopped.
- Attempts to open downloads from micro SD Card results in shutting down the app with this message: Unfortunately, File Manager has stopped.
- Slow processor
- No built-in radio tuner, needs to download an app from the app store, can’t play without WiFi or internet access.
- The battery is sealed. When it is no longer rechargeable (cycled out), your choices are to either have the phone serviced to just replace a dead battery or to dump it. Since the ZTE ZMAX will be outdated by then, do yourself a favor: buy a new phone.
- No Built-in Radio App. Listening to web radio will eat in your data allowance plan.
- At times, the Cell Phone fails to recognize a perfectly fine micro SD Card and its content, and displays this message: “No SD card. User data stored on the phone.”
- Corrupt file.
- Sometimes, no matter how hard and long the Power Key is pressed and held, the phone won’t turn on.
- Sometimes, when plugged into a live outlet, there are no indications (LED light or Battery Charging Icons) whatsoever that the phone is connected.
SD Card Corruption
The insertion of the micro SD Card into the ZTE ZMAX’s micro SD Card slot may cause the phone to corrupt the SD Card’s content.
At first, the only indication of the SD Card’s corruption is this message, when the phone fails to open the files in the Download Folders: Unfortunately, File Manager has stopped.
The second indication that the micro SD Card is corrupted is this message, when an attempt to film a video: Unfortunately, Camera has stopped.
The third indication is pretty blunt: The mobile phone fails to read the SD Card and notifies the user with this message at the very top of the Status Bar: Damaged SD Card.
You may think something is wrong with the phone. Do not jump to hasty conclusions. Put your scientific hat on first to troubleshoot the cause. Ask the Sale Representative for help. A competent associate should be able to diagnose the source of the problem and provide a remedy.
One way a representative can troubleshoot the phone is to replace your micro SD Card with another one, and try to:
Either open a micro SD Card folder/file. If this ugly message – Unfortunately, File Manager has stopped. – is displayed, the problem is obviously a damaged or corrupted SD Card. Just replace the micro SD Card to resolve the issue.
Or take a picture or shoot a video. If this hideous message – Unfortunately, Camera has stopped.- appears, the issue is your damaged or corrupted micro SD Card, not the phone. Again, replace or fix the defective SD Card.
A second way to troubleshoot the phone is to insert the micro SD Card into another phone (same brand, same model). If the ugly messages alluded to earlier shows up, you may draw the erroneous and hasty conclusion that both phones are defective. Far from it.
To scientifically test that inaccurate argument, insert the micro SD Card (your damaged or corrupted SD Card) into another phone (different brand, different model), this message will pop up: Damaged SD Card. Remove your SD Card immediately from the phone. We run that test on an LG Phone, without asking whether we wanted the SD Card to be re-formatted, it proceeded to format it, resulting in a major loss of data. Luckily, we had the foresight to back up the files prior to conducting the experiment, and were able to restore all our files. The lesson is to always back up the content of your SD Card before conducting any experiments.
How to Fix and Open a Corrupted and Unreadable Micro SD Card
After insertion of the micro SD Card in the Card Reader’s slot, connected to the computer/laptop, via USB Cable, the following message will pop up, when attempts to open the file are made:
“The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable.”
Don’t panic. Read this article first, then take on the challenge with confidence.
To repair the corrupted and unreadable micro SD Card, you need a:
- Memory Card Reader/Writer,
- Micro/Mini USB Cable, and
You can repair the corrupted micro SD Card two (2) ways:
- Reformatting, which we strongly advice against. Because formatting a SD Card wipes out completely the data contained herein, if any, it is not a recommended method to repair a corrupted SD Card. Should you choose to go the reformatting route, unless your data is backed up beforehand (a plausible excuse to always backup your data) to replace the lost information, you can kiss the erased data good bye. Forever.
- Running a Command Line, which we gladly recommend. Using a computer running Windows XP (you may try other operating systems), do the following:
- Click Start,
- Click Run,
- Input the Command Line CMD in the box, click OK (see pictures),
- Type Chkdsk g: /r (g is the drive to repair; your Card Reader’s drive letter may be different, such as (E), (F), (L), etc. /r stands for repair, it is the command that orders the computer to repair the affected drive, i.e. g in our example) at the end of C:\Documents and Settings\bcd >. You’ll see:
C:\Documents and Settings\bcd > Chkdsk g: /r
The Chkdsk g: /r is highlighted in red to draw attention as to where to precisely type it in.
- Press Enter.
You may read this message: Chkdsk cannot run because the volume is in use by another process. Chkdsk may run if this volume is dismounted first. ALL OPENED HANDLES TO THIS VOLUME WOULD THEN BE INVALID. Would you like to force a dismount on this volume? (Y/N)
Type Y, then press Enter to begin the process.
Depending on the volume of content to repair, this operation may take 10 – 50 minutes. At the end of the process, you’ll be able to open your salvaged files.
- Remove and insert the Micro SD Card back into the Card Reader/Writer’s slot.
- Read the repaired data. Hopefully, the sustained damage is minimal. The bulk of your data is recouped.
- Remove the micro SD Card from the Card Reader/Writer, and insert it into the ZTE ZMAX’s SD Card slot. The cell phone should recognize it and be able to open all your files (PDFs, Music, Videos, Photos, etc.). No more trouble taking pictures or shooting videos.
Dropping the phone inadvertently may prompt this message to appear: “No SD card. User data stored on the phone.” You may apparently also lose video and photo files stored on the SD Card. Don’t panic. The photos and videos will magically reappear in the DCIM folder.
Removal and insertion of the micro SD Card won’t fix the problem, without running a command line on the SD Card. Restart and Power off/on the cell phone won’t do the trick either. The only solution is to repeat the above process, i.e. running the command line on the SD Card, again. But before going through that time-consuming process again, try the removal and insertion of the SD Card, the Restarting and Power off/on of the phone; it may or may not work.
Earlier, we’ve alluded to the ZTE ZMAX’s shortcomings in terms of “subjective” key features. We’ll itemize those key features, and rate/grade the ZTE ZMAX accordingly. Those lacking key features are:
- Built-in FM Radio Tuner
- Battery Accessibility
- NFC (Near Field Communication)
- Meager Expandable Memory, and
- Wireless Charging Option
On a scale of 1 to 10 we rate the ZTE ZMAX 7. Why 7? Read on.
The ZTE is so beautifully designed, that after experiencing most of its features, it leaves us begging for more, which it can’t deliver in its current state. That failure to rise to the occasion leaves us with a bitter after-taste, which explains the 7 rating.
We are pretty sure that ZTE, in a later version of the ZMAX, will fill those voids to become a serious contender in the Smart Phone race. Watch out competition! Look in your rear view mirror, ZTE is hot on your trail.
Built-in FM Radio Tuner
The conspicuous absence of a built-in FM Radio Tuner is telling. In the absence of such native app, one has to rely on mindless web radio apps to stay informed (or misinformed). No internet access means no radio. The beauty of a built-in FM Radio Tuner lies in the fact that other than a headset that doubles as an antenna, internet connection is not needed to tune in.
Since the battery is built-in, accessibility is denied. When the battery cycles out, your choices are pretty much limited to either dispose of the phone or to send it to ZTE or a ZTE authorized service provider to have the battery replaced, which is inconvenient. In a future article, How To Charge A Cell Phone With A Damaged Micro/Mini USB Charging Port, the ZTE ZMAX won’t be featured as an example because of battery inaccessibility.
Battery inaccessibility has two (2) drawbacks:
- When a cell phone with an accessible battery slot is discharged, all you have to do is to replace the battery with a spare and continue to use the phone. With the ZTE ZMAX, however, that luxury is not afforded. You have to wait for it to recharge, robbing you of precious time you could have used to shoot photos and videos, browse the web, read books, or talk on the phone.
- If the micro USB Charging Port is damaged, and the battery is discharged, taking the battery out of the phone to recharge it with an external Universal Battery Charger is not an option.
Near Field Communication
The unavailability of NFC (Near Field Communication) features for tag reading or photo, video and website exchanging information.
Meager Memory Expandability
Given the size of the ZTE ZMAX (Height 6.4”, Width 3.3”, Depth 0.35”), its micro SD Card should have been a generous 64 GB, to store as much data as possible, instead of the meager 32 GB. Hopefully, the next version will take those suggestions into consideration and expand the external memory capacity interface.
Tethering the ZTE ZMAX to a USB cable to charge the battery, without the wireless charging option, seems to be out of character for a smart phone as beautiful as this one. Is it asking for too much to integrate the wireless charging capability in an evolved version of the ZTE ZMAX? We think not.
Do We Recommend It?
We certainly do. The ZTE ZMAX offers a ton of features without an avoirdupois price. If you are not the waiting-online-overnight-for-the-next-big-thing type, this smart phone is for you.
When we just bought the phone and started experiencing these issues, we were so frustrated, this is the review we were going to write:
Had it not been for those major flaws (inability to open downloaded files folder, inability to open video from camera app, slow processor) we would have gladly recommended the ZTE ZMAX. Save yourself the aggravation, spend a little more money to buy a better phone, a proven brand.
Our decision to buy the ZTE ZMAX (which would have been a great value: $200.00 – $250.00, had it met our expectations) was based on overwhelming positive reviews of the phone by guinea pig customers. Unfortunately, the ZTE ZMAX – ours- turns out to be a major disappointment. Maybe we were unlucky and got saddled with a lemon. We started experiencing problems with it on the very day of purchase, right at the store. The phone could not read the installed Micro SD Card.
Since we’ve been able to resolve all the frustrating issues – and showed you how to tackle them if confronted with- disregard the above rant, and gladly buy the ZTE ZMAX.
Our advice? Test everything at the store: Camera/Video app, SD Card, Internet Access, etc. If any issue arises, test another phone (ZTE ZMAX). If the same issues are experienced with the other phone, ditch ZTE, pick another reputable brand, which may cost extra, but you would have at least the peace of mind of having chosen a reliable phone, saving yourself time and money by avoiding unnecessary trips to the phone store to resolve the issue.
Ignore the ditching part of the above advice, pay close attention to the test-everything-at-the-store part. After testing the phone at the store, if everything is satisfactory, buy it and save yourself a bundle over the pricier phones, which basically do the same things (fewer bells and whistles aside): make and receive phone calls, access internet/Wi-Fi, stream/play videos and music, shoot videos and take pictures, play games, store data in internal and external (micro SD Cards) memories, etc.
Because the ZTE ZMAX is so inexpensive and gives the competition a run for the money, you won’t find it prominently displayed at most stores, you have to ask for it. It is like the best kept secret.
What Should You Do With Your Old Phone?
Now that you have a brand new ZTE ZMAX, what to do with your old cell phone? You can sell it, trade it in, or keep it for emergency calls (911 – phone needs not be connected to any cell phone service provider for the emergency call to go through), emergency alerts, or for the features lacking in the ZTE ZMAX. We keep ours for the built-in FM Radio Tuner, the music stored in the Internal Memory, the external micro SD Card interface, and free Wi-Fi access.
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